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Yoga and meditation methods have been applied in the treatment of depression and anxiety by western health care providers since the 1970’s. So what is yoga? How does it help with mental health challenges? And can it also be helpful for children who are experiencing challenges?
Before being able to understand how yoga might be helpful it is important to understand that there is often a physical as well as a psychological component to mental health challenges. Here’s the key, the cognitive or psychological struggles often found in mental health challenges are not separate from the body AND the associated physical challenges negatively impact our way of thinking. We are looking at two sides of the same coin.
Mental health professionals use an array of strategies that can be helpful in dealing with the cognitive or psychological aspects of these challenges. These strategies might include cognitive behavioral therapy, ego supportive counseling or other talk therapy approaches. Research suggests that combining a body-based approach such as yoga with traditional talk therapy can effectively target both the physical as well as psychological aspects of mental health challenges (See the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry for information on the importance of treating the physical symptoms of depression).
The practice of yoga generally combines a series of postures called asanas, with specific types of breathing in conjunction with a meditation and/or a time of relaxation. Asana in conjunction with breath is used to support relaxation and to increase body awareness. Improved body awareness helps provide feedback to us regarding our emotional state as well as the impact of our thoughts and choices. By learning to control the breath, we can also learn to regulate our emotions. Additionally, yoga directly impacts many of the physiological challenges associated with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Interested in more reading? Harvard has published research on the positive effects of yoga on anxiety and depression.
Research is also finding that yoga can benefit children. The practice of yoga can help children who struggle with attentional difficulties learn to listen, to follow directions and can be used in a group setting to enhance social skills. Children who struggle with anxiety can also benefit from yoga’s focus on relaxation. More information is available here on the benefits of yoga for children with emotional and behavioral issues.
For more information on the application of yoga to support mental health treatment or to inquire about our yoga therapy groups please contact Intuition Wellness Center at (520)333-3320.
Written by: Navneet Lahti, LCSW and Certified Yoga Instructor
Photo courtesy of: freedigitalphotos.net